Preview: With Stephen Curry and Tony Parker banged up, other Warriors and Spurs will have to step up in Game 4

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When the Spurs and Warriors face off today, they’ll do so with both their floor generals not 100% physically. And while Parker is sure he’ll play with his bruised calf, Curry is only “optimistic” he’ll be able to see the floor and sounds far from certain he’ll be near his best if he does play.

For the Warriors that’s not the best of news, obviously. Curry has been spectacular these playoffs and the focal point of his team’s high powered attack. These playoffs, when Curry is on the floor the Warriors boast an offensive efficiency (points per 100 possessions) of 110.8, but that number dips to an astonishingly low 83.0 when he goes to the bench, per NBA.com. If Curry isn’t able to approach his normal standards, the question then becomes if they can get enough production from the rest of their backcourt players to match a potent Spurs’ offense.

Jarrett Jack and Klay Thompson will need to raise their respective games, especially relative to what they were able to provide in game 3. Today, Jack can’t be the turnover machine he was and will need to avoid playing with the tunnel vision that freezes out his teammates way too often. Thompson, meanwhile, must get into the flow of the game early and often, looking for his shot off pin downs and in transition to help boost the offense.

Beyond the guards, the Warriors will also need for Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green to be assertive when they have match up advantages. Both have the ability to create offense for themselves and for others and if Curry is hampered, they’ll need to provide that extra playmaking to help supplement what Curry can’t provide. If both can not only get some key basket for themselves but create a few easy ones for the Warriors’ big men when the Spurs help, it would go a long way towards a successful day on that end.

Where the Warriors really need to figure things out is defensively. The Spurs, like they did in the Lakers’ series, seem to be rounding into form after getting a good sense of what their opponent likes to do defensively.

Tony Parker seems to be sorting out where the gaps in the defense are and is attacking when given space while hitting his jumper when his man tries to deny those driving lanes. That said, if his bum calf hampers his ability to create off the dribble, other Spurs ball handlers will need to step in and provide those skills. In game 1, Manu Ginobili was able to provide playmaking, but his scoring has suffered in this series. If he can break out today, it would be a huge boost to San Antonio.

In his own way, Tim Duncan may also have fill some of the playmaking void should Parker not be up to his normal standards. Operating from the elbow and the low post, Duncan can not only score but can be a facilitator for teammates when his team goes into their motion heavy sets. If Duncan shots start to fall, it will only open up his passing angles further and that will spell trouble for a Golden State defense that didn’t bring their top effort in game 3.

But, ultimately, this game will come down which team can get more from their banged up guards. Because while others will need to chip in, both Curry and Parker are too important to what their teams want to do offensively. And if either is substantially hampered in this game, their team will struggle to make up the difference in production as the defense tightens up against everyone else.

MVP James Harden, dominant Rockets show up in second half, crush Timberwolves

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We had to wait three-and-a-half games for it.

We had seen James Harden play like an MVP all season. We had seen the Rockets bury threes at a record rate all season. We had seen Houston’s switching defense impress all season (sixth best in the NBA). We had seen Houston rack up 65 wins and make it look easy.

Then we got to the playoffs and the Rockets couldn’t put it all together at once. Harden struggled after Game 1, including going 0-of-7 in the first quarter Monday night. The defense was inconsistent and the threes were not falling. All of it let the Timberwolves hang around in the series — down 2-1 — and the same in Game 4, down just a point at halftime.

Then the Harden and Rockets we all expected showed up.

Houston put up 50 points in the third quarter alone, shooting 61 percent overall and 9-of-13 from three, plus they got to the line 13 times and made every shot. The Rockets opened the second half on an 11-0 run that extended all the way to 25-4, with almost all of the damage from Harden, who had 22 in the quarter.

The Rockets pulled away and cruised from there to an easy 119-100 win.

“We hit the switch, the switch we’ve been trying to hit since the beginning of the playoffs on both ends of the floor,” Harden said postgame. “It’s pretty scary what we’re capable of when defensively we’re locked in like that, and offensively we got rolling.”

Houston now leads the series 3-1 and can close it out at home in Game 5 Wednesday night.

In the first half this looked nothing like something that would end with a comfortable Rockets win. Houston struggled at the start of Game 4, opening 0-of-5 in the paint, including Harden missing an open layup. As a team, the Rockets started the game 4-of-16 from three, and a lot of those were uncontested looks. The Rockets play a lot of isolation, but even for them the ball seemed to stick in the first half. If not for Trevor Ariza knocking down three from beyond the arc, the Timberwolves might have been able to pull away.

The fact they didn’t was a blown opportunity for the Timberwolves, something they just can’t do in this series. It was a one-point Rockets lead, 50-49, at the half.

Minnesota had some moments on offense in the game, usually when attacking quickly off the Rockets switch. Derrick Rose had some moments and finished the game with 17 points. Karl-Anthony Towns had 22 points and 15 rebounds, Jimmy Butler had 19 points on 17 shots.

But that was no match for the Rockets when they flipped the switch.

It was a barrage of threes that we have waited for all season, and it all started with Harden and Chris Paul, they had all of the first 15 points of the second half for Houston. Harden finished with 36 points and hit 5-of-11 from three. CP3 had 25 points and six assists, Eric Gordon finally woke up in this series with 18, and Ariza finished with 15.

Minnesota is a talented team, but they are learning fast what a contender can do — even not at their peak the Rockets had taken two of the first three in the series, and when they did flip the switch it was another level. A level the Timberwolves want to get to, there are just some rough lessons along the road to getting there.

James Harden puts on show to start second half vs. Timberwolves

Associated Press
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James Harden started Game 4 0-of-7 from the floor, including missing a lay-up. It was an extension of Game 3, and it let the Timberwolves hang around for a half despite their own offensive woes.

Then in the second half the MVP Harden showed up.

Houston started the second half on an 11-0 run that extended all the way to 25-4, and a lot of it was Harden (with a little help from Chris Paul). Harden had 22 points in the third (with 4:30 left in the quarter). After a couple rough games the Timberwolves were going under the pick when Harden had the ball, and suddenly he made them pay.

Or, he was just stepping back.

With all the buckets the Rockets turned a close game into a 25 point lead.

Tyronn Lue doesn’t hold back with retort to heckling Pacers’ fan

Associated Press
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It’s a part of the NBA experience that most fans don’t get to hear — some fans courtside heckling opposing players and coaches, and those guys occasionally firing back. We only tend to hear about it when things cross a line.

Sometimes the interactions are just funny, such as this one passed along by J. Michael of the Indy Star.

Well played, Lue.

Although is Cleveland really a city at the forefront of fashion? Well, I suppose if you went to college in Nebraska…

Report: Pelicans picked up Alvin Gentry’s option for next season before sweep

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Last summer the buzz was all over the league: Pelicans GM Dell Demps and coach Alvin Gentry were given a “playoffs or bust” mandate by management. If the Pelicans were not in the postseason — and just barely getting in and then blown out in the first round might be good enough — there was going to be a housecleaning.

The Pelicans made the playoffs as the six seed with 48 wins despite losing DeMarcus Cousins to a torn Achilles midway through the season.

That alone was good enough to get Gentry another season in New Orleans, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

As noted, this happened before the Pelicans swept the Trail Blazers out of the first round and into a summer of re-evaluation. This option season is the last of Gentry’s original deal with the Pelicans.

Gentry has the Pelicans playing fast, using the elite defense of Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday to get stops, and right now Davis is leading an offense that is just getting it done, with guys such as Nikola Mirotic stepping up. Gentry has earned another year, and a shot to integrate Cousins into this style and level of play, to see where that could take New Orleans next season.

It will be interesting to see if Demps can add more shooting and versatility with a capped out roster.